On Being an Adult

by | Mar 5, 2021


I can vividly recall sitting in our car in front of the hospital in 1999 with our newborn daughter in the backseat. As my wife and I sat there the vast responsibility we now had was sinking in. I turned to her and said, “ok, so now what do we do?” I was shocked there wasn’t an instruction manual for this brand new human.

Growing up we tend to think our parents have all the answers and know what they are doing. Having been a parent now for nearly 22 years, I realize that we parents are just making it up as we go along. So many times over the past two decades, my wife and I have been confronted with kid issues and we again look at each other and say, “so now what do we do?” just like we did on day one of parenting. We’re a good team — we follow each other’s lead — but we’re really just making it up as we go along. I imagine our daughters would be shocked to learn how often their parents feel rudderless.

Being an “adult” is not a binary thing. You aren’t a child and then all the sudden emerge from your childhood cocoon as an adult. This adulting thing is gradual and there is never a time that you look around and say “I’m an adult — I’ve got it all figured out now.” When I was younger, I thought that such a time would arrive but now I know it won’t. Of course, as we age we gain experience, and hopefully wisdom, but everyday is a new day and we always experience each stage of our lives for the first time.

I heard the following years ago:

Inside every 75 year-old is a 20 year-old thinking “what the hell just happened?

I’ve asked people in their 70s and 80s if they feel this way and they confirm that they do. This recently was validated again while volunteering at a vaccine clinic as I had the good fortune to chat with a gentleman in his 80s as I wheeled him through the vaccination process. He only recently had to use a wheelchair due to a combination of bad knees and a pulled muscle in his thigh that wouldn’t heal all the way. The gentleman said it was so weird to be in his 80s and in a wheelchair because in his mind he viewed himself as much younger. It constantly surprised him that people treated him like an old man and he often was startled when he caught view of himself in the mirror and saw an old man looking back. He shared that he wished he would have appreciated having a healthy, fully functioning body when he was younger. It was amazing. It was a machine. In many respects youth is wasted on the young.

There are two things I’ve read recently that have impacted my views on being an adult and where I am now in the process. The first is from a book I really enjoyed and which is chock full of wisdom, The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness:

Retirement is when you stop sacrificing today for an imaginary tomorrow.

A second and related concept is from venture capitalist Brad Feld’s blog where he discusses his worldview and what it’s like being in his fifties vs. being younger:

The difference from my earlier life is simple: I’m no longer striving.

I am on the verge of turning 51 and these two notions really spoke to me. I am still making most everything up as I go along, whether I’m parenting, being a leader at my company, or figuring out my place in the universe. What has changed for me over the past five years or so is that now I rarely trade today for an imaginary tomorrow (hopefully I’m not kidding myself). While I’m progressing and learning and growing, my sense of striving has greatly decreased. This is a great place to be. It feels good. I don’t want to turn back the clock and be 25 or 35 years-old when I raged at the world and regularly traded my todays for tomorrows. Yet, like the gentleman at the vaccine clinic, I still think of myself as being much younger. Everyday something comes up where I wish I could turn and ask a real adult for help or advice.

If I could go back and talk to my younger self I would share that there is really no such thing as an adult. We’re all just making it up as we go along. I would tell myself to not be so impatient and to dial back the striving. There is no destination, only the journey, so I should spend less effort striving for a destination that doesn’t exist.

I wonder what advice my future self will have for the current me.


  1. If you think part of being an adult is having it all figured out, you’re not an adult yet.

  2. Jennings – remind me next time there’s a pandemic to volunteer with you. I am sure there are some great conversations I could have overheard. You should write a book brother! Kg

  3. You now have the world by the ass and know it! Congrats! Luv2Nap

  4. John,

    Kudos to you on writing such a vulnerable and honest post. I too, often feel that I’m making this up as I go along in my career, my marriage and my parenting. You often appear to me to be someone that has it all figured out and I appreciate reading your words. I believe that there is wisdom in knowing that you don’t have all the answers at all times.


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